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Entries in gender roles (24)

Saturday
Jun112011

A Trip Through Space for Boys and Girls (1954)

While flipping through the 1954 book A Trip Through Space I was struck by one aspect of the interstellar story that I've never noticed in a pre-Apollo book... a girl in space!

Here at Paleofuture we've looked at quite a few books that told children of the 1950s and 60s about the wondrous world of space travel in store for them. But I can honestly say that I've never noticed one that included girls in this fantastic, space-faring future.

Exploring Space, First Men to the MoonBoytopia, The Complete Book of Space Travel; none of these depictions of future astronauts bothered to include women. A Trip Through Space was written by Catharine E. Barry, an associate curator at the Hayden Planetarium, but there isn't much information about her online. Any biographical information about Ms. Barry from readers is greatly appreciated.

Now, I know that pointing out gender inequalities of the 1950s isn't a particularly novel observation and I only own about half a dozen children's books from the 1950s and 60s that envision future space travel. So it's difficult for me to definitively say how common depictions of female astronauts were during this period without more extensive research. With that said, I suspect that the girl in A Trip Through Space is a rare depiction indeed. 

I'm fascinated by what kind of stories we tell our children and how that shapes our society. The stories we hear as kids no doubt greatly influence our perspective on what's possible for the future, both globally and personally. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space* in 1983 -- the year I was born, in fact. What stories did Sally Ride hear growing up that set her on a path pursuing science? Growing up, how did she see herself fitting into the space program? As a 27 year old man who didn't grow up during the Space Age it's sometimes hard for me to gain personal perspective on things like this. 

I emailed Virginia Postrel, author of The Future and Its Enemies, columnist at Bloomberg and editor of the website Deep Glamour so that I might better understand the gender politics of the time. When I moved to Los Angeles I had dinner with Virginia, her husband and Paul Boutin at Cafe 50s, where a copy of the 1959 kid's book You Will Go to the Moon hangs on the wall. Over dinner Virginia talked about how much she loved that book when she was a little girl. Virginia's email to me appears below. 

When I was in kindergarten (roughly 1965), we had a time every day where we could look at books. My favorite books were You Will Go to the Moon (1959) and a book on the planets. I did read You Will Go to the Moon nearly every day, and I never noticed that the character in the book is a boy or that the text says, "You will be a space man." I only noticed that decades later when the book turned up on the wall of Cafe 50s and I later acquired a used copy. As a child I never explicitly aspired to be an astronaut. It was more that I assumed that in the future people would go into space, perhaps on business trips or as tourists. I never got to the details. I don't know that more women being represented would have had much effect on me, because I've never had much of a problem identifying with male role models, but it might have made a difference for other girls. Later, in the early 1970s, when I was 12 or 13 I watched Star Trek, which, of course, had plenty of female characters. The recurring ones were a switchboard operator, a nurse, and a secretary, but there were nonrecurring scientists, diplomats, historians, etc.

 

And it goes without saying that your comments about this time period -- educated or otherwise -- are more than welcome.

*The first woman in space was Russian Valentina Tereshkova in 1963.

Sunday
Dec132009

Looking Forward to 2010 (1910)

The 1910 film Looking Forward, directed by Theodore Marston, imagines a crazy dystopia where women rule the world. Because, as this film accurately predicted, women naturally became a political majority after getting the vote.

The description below of Looking Forward is excerpted from Eric Dewberry's paper, "A Happy Medium: Women's Suffrage Portrayals in Thanhouser Films, 1910-16." [pdf]

The comedy Looking Forward (1910) centers around Jack Goodwin, a chemistry student who discovers a liquid compound which allows people to fall asleep for a determinate period of time without the pitfalls of aging. One day, Jack drinks the potion and wakes up in the year 2010. In addition to the marvels of futuristic “rapid transit facilities,” Jack is shocked to discover that men are in the social and political minority, and do not have the right to vote. In an attempt to “restore order,” Jack becomes a ‘suffragehim’ and is sent to jail for his activities. The female mayor of the city falls in love with Jack and offers to free him from prison if he will marry her. Jack wishes to restore “the rights of men,” however, and refuses to leave prison and accept the proposal unless the mayor signs a decree giving men their liberty. Upon signing, the end of the film shows Jack correcting the bride during the wedding ceremony, leading the Mayor down the aisle instead of vice versa and transferring the veil from his head to her head.

The image above is from the January 30, 1911 Centralia Daily Chronicle (Centralia, WA).

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Sunday
Oct112009

Computerized Kitchen of the Future (1977)

We seem to have been waiting for the smart cupboard/fridge for quite a while now. Though the continued spread of RFID chips makes such an idea more plausible today, the future kitchen isn't yet quite what we imagined.

A January 3, 1977 piece in the Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba) predicted the smart cupboard, kitchen computers that automatically select menus and kitchen televisions for monitoring Junior in the next room. The piece appears in its entirety below.

TORONTO (CP) - The housewife of the future will be able to keep an eye on her sleeping baby by "dialing in" the nursery to get an instant picture of a kitchen television screen.

This is but one prediction Canadians can expect to come true as advances in kitchen conveniences are researched and developed, says Gordon I. Forsell, vice-president of marketing and sales for Inglis Ltd., appliance manufacturer.

"We visualize a day when a central panel or brain will allow the housewife to handle most tasks through a computerized source," said Mr. Forsell.

A kitchen computer will select menus and deliver frozen items directly from freezer to micro-wave oven. A gourmet meal may be thawed, cooked and ready-to-serve in minutres.

The computer's brain will store information such as a tally of supplies that are running short in the kitchen cupboard.

Mr. Forsell predicted that the same television screen the housewife watchers her baby on will deliver the day's news or a special college course at the push of a button.

Located centrally in the kitchen of tomorrow is the cooking area, he said. Smooth, unbroken cooking surfaces that wife clean with a cloth will be hidden beneath the kitchen counter ready to pull out and use when required.

He said a giant crisper located directly beside the sink area will keep greens fresh and well within reach. Its moisture will be automatically controlled.

Mr. Forsell said a special sink will be equipped with a food dispenser so that peels and rinds will disappear. "And paper, cans and other solid waste products will go into a trash compactor," he said.

"Also built into the kitchen of tomorrow is a year-round herb garden supported by ultra-violet light."

He said that no one will have to wash a dish, plate or pot.

"New dishwashers will add their own detergents, adjust heat automatically and handle every utensil efficiently," he said. "The dishwasher will be hidden below the counter and programmed to rise to counter top at the push of a button."

"Mr. Forsell said the kitchen of the future also will have a complete laundry centre. Programmed washers will automatically sort fabrics and colors including all the touch double-knits and delicate laces.

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Saturday
Aug082009

Computer May Rule Household in 1999 A.D. (1967)

Remember the film 1999 A.D. we looked at a of couple years ago? (I really can't believe I've been doing the Paleo-Future blog that long. That's like 14 in blog-years.) Well, the October 16, 1967 Fresno Bee (Fresno, CA) ran a piece by Desa C. Belyea about the film and its futuristic family dynamic.

Whenever talking about "ignored futures" I tend to point to this film as a great example. The future being sold includes a dazzling array of technological advances, while depicting a family with the same social and gender norms of the time in which it was created. 

An excerpt, along with the piece in its entirety appear below.

The nagging wife will soon be obsolete -- another victim of progress.

But if Dad thinks his days of being hen-pecked are over, just wait until he meets the new head of the household -- the electronic kitchen computer.

The year is 1999. The scene: a typical American kitchen. The case: Mom, Dad and Junior. The plot: What is for lunch?

Mom goes to her automated kitchen console and presses a series of buttons. In a few seconds today's menu appears on the electronic screen.

The first one suggests consomme as a first course for all, a cheese omelet for Dad, cottage cheese and tomato for Mom and broiled chicken, mashed potatoes, spinach and mushrooms for Junior. All three get fresh fruit for dessert.

The second menu is tomato juice for all, chicken salad for Dad, a tuna sandwich for Mom and broiled salmon, broccoli and carrots for Junior. Dessert for everybody is chocolate pudding.

Dad says, "Nuts, no machine is telling me what to eat, I'm having a cheeseburger with French fries and a cold bottle of beer."

Mom consults her computer. The reply is, "Sorry, cheeseburger, fries and beer are 400 calories over allotment. Suggest you try cold roast beef, green salad and low calorie beer." Click.

And Dad scowlingly agrees. Mom presses the buttons on her console to order the meal and two minutes later the family sits down to lunch.

After lunch, Dad tries to sneak off for a nap -- but, oh, no, Big Brother has plans for him. According to the health records maintained by the family computer, which each morning checks pules, temperature, weight and blood pressure, Dad needs to exercise and so off he marches, still grumbling, to do his pushups and kneebends.

Nor is there any relief in sight. After exercises comes improvement hour. First, there is the study of mathematics, space navigation and foreign languages spewed forth on tape. Then a session on culture led by the auto-composer which reproduces the sounds of all instruments and offers Dad the opportunity to compose his own music.

Finally, as Dad slumps in exhaustion, the little beep-beep reminds him that he still has his hobby projects to finish and so he trots off again, an unhappy victim of progress, as the curtain drops on Scene: 1999.

A fantasy? An impossibility? Not according to the Philco-Ford Corporation which has just completed a color motion picture "1999 A.D." in which the "House of Tomorrow" as envisioned by company engineers and industrial designers, will be displayed on movie screens in various film houses this fall and winter.

The film 1999 A.D. can be purchased at AV Geeks.

1967 Oct 16 Fresno Bee - Fresno, CA Paleo Future

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Sunday
Jul262009

Robots for Romantic Old Maids (1928)

The July 1, 1928 San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX) ran a syndicated story titled, "Romantic Old Maids Can Hear the Words of Love They Long For."

The excerpt below tells the tale of a futuristic unmarried woman who keeps a robot under her bed. This automated man, which was naturally all the rage in 1929, gives her all the love and attention no "mortal man" will give her. The woman, even in such a contrived environment, must feign astonishment that a "man" would be in her bedroom.

I found it interesting that an article from the 1920s would mention the existence of gigolos (who of course, only exist in Europe). The article explains that such gigolos, who "pay attention" to old and unattractive ladies of wealth, will now be put out of work by these gear-driven casanovas. And here you thought the idea of sexbots was new...

At the same rate of progress it should not require more than a decade or so before a person can go to a store and pick out from the show case most any kind of automatic man or woman he or she might fancy -- an ideal servant or workman who would ask no food or wages but a little current and an occasional drop of oil; or even a flattering admirer could be purchased who would whisper in a neglected wife's ear, all the nice things that a busy husband forgets to say.

In this happy future, no old maid need look under the bed for a man, in vain. He would always be there and such a nice man, a perfect imitation of her favorite matinee idol or film star, with blond or dark hair, moustache or clean shaven, anything her heart desired. These would be stock models, turned out in quantity production and quite reasonable in price. This year probably a "Lindy" model would have been a big seller. Or, if the customer is willing to pay a little more and have one made to order, the manufacturer might send artists and photographers to some notorious lounge-lizard and deliver a perfect counterfeit of him. She could order the late Rudolf Valentine's face and John Barrymore's voice or most any other combination.

The present crude automations can be made to start on most any combination of tones, therefore the man under the bed might be set to react at the words:

"Sir! What are you doing there?"

At that cue he would crawl out and on bended knees, pour out words from 1,000 feet of phonofilm, revealing his hopeless passion for the love-starved old maid, telling her how beautiful she is and all the other sweet things that somebody out to have said but no mortal had bothered to.

When she tired of hearing this over and over, a word of encouragement would be the end to slide into place in his manly chest, another reel and at the same time he could sit beside her on the couch or take her on his substantial knees, embracing her with a tireless mechanical arm. The introduction of this kind of automation would throw out of work a small army of "gigolos," young men who in Europe, pay attention to old and unattractive ladies of wealth, for a consideration.

You can read the entire article here.

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Wednesday
Jun242009

Lady Vice President by Year 2000 (1955)

The November 21, 1955 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Fairbanks, AK) ran a short piece with the predictions of Mrs. Ivy Baker Priest. She predicted that by the year 2000 there would be three female members of the Supreme Court and a lady vice president. Priest also predicted that half of congress would be female.

Sonia Sotomayor would be the third female Supreme Court justice in U.S. history, though there has never been more than two women on the court at one time. Sotomayor's confirmation hearings are set to start July 13, 2009.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, there are currently 441 members of the U.S. Congress that are male (83%) and 92 that are female (17%). For more information, check out the Women in Congress website.

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Saturday
Jun202009

Women of the Year 2011 (1911)

The March 18, 1911 Penny Illustrated Paper (London, England) ran a piece by J.C. Bristow-Noble titled, "Woman of the Future," in which he makes predictions about the woman of 2011.

Bristow-Noble writes that contrary to what Bernard Shaw says, women will not abandon the skirt or the petticoat because, "I tell you in confidence as many husbands have been snared by a lace frill as by a pretty face." In other words, ugly women need to be fashionable (read: slutty?) if they want any shot at snagging a husband.

The author also writes that women, though they will get the "accursed vote," will not be any smarter a hundred years hence:

Again, rise, please, from your tomb a hundred years hence, and perhaps you will be astounded to find woman not a jot cleverer than her great-grandmother was. Indeed, she will not have the amount of brains that the present-day woman can boast.

The author then goes on to talk about the innate desire for every woman to marry and look after the kids. He does, however, say "most of them" and "many women" which to me seems downright progressive for the time.

The little typist sitting on her stool vows that she has no desire to marry -- indeed, that she loathes men, and is as happy as the day is long. Gentle reader, show some of them a picture of a little villa with a bit of ivy crawling up the wall out Brixton way, containing a cradle to rock, a potato to peel, and a little "general" to howl at. They will fall at your feet and offer up their prayers to you if you will give them that little kingdom; and thus it will be with many women through all time. A woman is a woman, and, try how she may, she cannot escape from herself.

Bristow-Noble concludes by stating that, "A hundred years hence, the fashionable age at which to marry will be between forty and fifty," though it seems unclear given the context if he's talking about men or women.

1911 March 18 Woman of the Future-1

Previously on Paleo-Future: